Brooklyn Tenants Battle Real-Estate Goliath

Crown Heights residents joined with city and state officials outside a large apartment complex on Oct. 19 to denounce one of New York’s largest real-estate developers for abruptly revoking the rent-regulated status of almost 700 apartments in the building.

In early October, tenants in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital apartment complex in Crown Heights received lease-renewal forms indicating that their apartments would no longer be rent-regulated. In some cases, the rent increased by 20 percent,  speakers at the rally said.

“Sadly, the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital apartments represent some of the few affordable housing that still remains in Crown Heights,” said Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley, whose district includes Crown Heights—the neighborhood where rents are rising faster than any other neighborhood in Brooklyn. “By allowing these units to be deregulated, we further destabilize the community.”

The apartment complex, at the intersection of Prospect Place and Classon Avenue, is owned by Alma Realty, a developer that is currently negotiating with the city to build Astoria Cove, a mixed-use development in Astoria that would have 1,700 units of mostly market-rate housing. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz as well as Astoria’s community board and city councilmember currently oppose the project. They want the developer to include more than the 345 “affordable” housing units slated under the current plan. They also say the rent for those apartments would be unaffordable for many low- and middle-income families.

Politicians at the rally in Crown Heights also voiced opposition to the development in Queens.

“This is a classic developer bait-and-switch scheme that must be stopped,” said city Comptroller Scott Stringer.  “You cannot take away 700 affordable housing units in Brooklyn and think you’re going to get only 300 affordable housing units in Queens. It’s not even a zero-sum game. It’s a negative.”

According to the city officials at the rally, Alma Realty stopped offering below-market rents to the tenants at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital complex after it failed to receive a J-51 tax abatement from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. According to HPD, Alma Realty did apply for the abatement, which requires that they put apartments into rent stabilization, but failed to meet several deadlines during the application process.

Tenants said that Alma Realty never told them that their rent-regulated status would be revoked. Neighbors learned their landlord was dramatically raising rents on new leases by talking to each other.

Alethea Adsitt, a physical therapist who moved into the building last December with her five-month-old child, said that she was shocked when she found out last week that her monthly rent would rise by 5 percent.

“It’s very frustrating. I feel like the law should protect us and I don’t know how a law could be so murky. I’ve been through this before. It just makes me feel not really stable about anywhere I live,” she said.

Public Advocate Letitia James, who as a Councilmember representing Crown Heights fought to ensure that the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital apartments stayed rent-regulated when Alma bought the property in 2005, said that she was working to resolve the issue. She said she had met with HPD Commissioner Vicki Been on Oct. 17 and hoped to schedule a meeting with Alma Realty soon.

Asked if the city was rewarding the developer by stepping in to fast-track the tax abatement, Mosley said that the priority is to hold Alma Realty to its original promise to support affordable housing in Crown Heights.

“We have thousands of people who came here under the impression that these were a rent-regulated apartments and that the developer and realtor were qualified for rent-regulated status,” he said. “So we’re trying to make Alma more accountable to the tenants who live here.”


This article originally appeared in The Indypendent